Ukraine war - latest updates: Bakhmut 'slaughter-fest' sees Russia suffer 'huge casualties' (2023)

Key points
  • Russia achieving 'degree of success' in 'slaughter-fest' Bakhmut
  • Russia prepares for major military recruitment campaign to sign up '400,000 troops'
  • Another attempt to raise profile? Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin weighs in on sentencing of dad
  • Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant 'can't be protected'
  • 'Huge Russian casualties' due to 'deep systemic problems'
  • Live reporting by Lucia Binding


Russian court begins closed hearing on US reporter held for spying - media reports

A Moscow court has begun a closed session to hear an application for the formal arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, detained for espionage, according to the Russian state-owned news agency RIA.

Earlier, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too early to talk of a possible prisoner swap involving Mr Gershkovich.

The Interfax news agency cited Mr Ryabkov as saying that such exchanges had previously taken place for those already convicted, and that it was necessary to wait to see how the story with Mr Gershkovich developed.

Earlier, Russia's FSB security service said it had detained the reporter on suspicion of spying for Washington - the most serious public move against a foreign journalist since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal has said it vehemently denies the allegations against him.


Scuffles at Kyiv monastery as Church accused of Moscow ties resists eviction

Scuffles broke out outside a Kyiv monastery today after a Ukrainian branch of the Orthodox Church was accused by the government of having ties with Russia and defied an eviction order.

Tensions over the presence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
(UOC) at the 980-year-old Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery have
risen since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

Hours after the deadline to leave the monastery passed at
midnight on Wednesday, members of the UOC refused entry to a
government representative who came to inspect buildings in the
gold-domed monastery's sprawling complex.

Shortly afterwards, journalists from Reuters news agency saw UOC representatives trying to prevent journalists filming a senior UOC cleric as he walked inside the monastery grounds.

"You lie," one man inside the complex shouted at reporters.

A Reuters reporter was hit and shoved by an unidentified
man, and another reporter was pushed away by a cleric as she
tried to approach him, though no one was hurt.

The UOC is Ukraine's second-largest church, but most
Ukrainian Orthodox believers belong to a separate branch of the
faith, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, formed four years ago by
uniting branches independent of Moscow's authority.


French court opposes extradition of Ukrainian billionaire

A French court has ruled Ukrainian billionaire Kostyantyn Zhevago should not be extradited over accusations of embezzlement, his spokesperson said on today.

Zhevago, who controls London-listed iron pellet producer Ferrexpo, was arrested at a French ski resort in December at the request of Ukraine, which wants him over the disappearance of $113m (£92m) from the now-bankrupt lender Finance & Credit Bank.

The billionaire has denied any wrongdoing and had been released on bail for €1m following his initial arrest near Chambery in France.

Ukraine issued an arrest warrant for Zhevago - who served in the Ukrainian parliament from 1998 to 2019 - in 2019, with an international arrest warrant following in 2021.


Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin weighs in on sentencing of dad whose young daughter drew anti-war artwork

The financier of Russian mercenary group Wagner has called for the sentencing of a dad whose daughter, 13, drew anti-war artwork to be reviewed, calling into question its legality, a US-based thinktank has reported.

Alexei Moskalyov was sentenced this week to two years in a penal colony for discrediting the country's army after anti-war social media posts came to light in addition to his daughter’s artwork.

But Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin wrote in a letter on Tuesday that the sentence should be reviewed and recommended that Wagner-affiliated lawyers join Moskalyov's defence, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The thinktank notes that Prigozhin had previously called for punishing people who "discredit" Russian forces, and suggests that he may be attempting to raise his own domestic profile, seizing on public conversation of Moskalev's imprisonment.

"Prigozhin's response to Moskalev's sentencing is particularly ironic considering that Prigozhin was initially one of the biggest and loudest supporters of the law on punishing those who 'discredit' Russian forces," the ISW wrote.

"It is therefore likely that Prigozhin seized on the discourse surrounding Moskalev to further his own reputation and advocate for the Wagner Group."


Russian National Guard chief arrested in possible 'sweeping corruption probe' - thinktank

The head of the naval department of Rosgvardia (the Russian national guard) has been arrested in what could be a "sweeping corruption probe" into the internal security service, a US-based thinktank has reported.

Colonel Sergey Volkov, chief of the National Guard Naval Service Corps, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of abuse of authority in connection with the sale of low-quality radar systems at heavily inflated prices, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

An official investigation reportedly found that Volkov's actions cost 395.5m roubles (roughly £4.1m).

It comes after a criminal case was launched on 20 March against another national guard commander, Major General Vadim Dragomiretsky – also on corruption-related charges.

Analysts at the ISW say that these two investigations could indicate a wider corruption probe into Russia's internal security service.

Russia's national guard reports directly to Vladimir Putin, and he "likely pays very close attention to the reliability and loyalty of some Rosgvardia personnel," the thinktank added.


Does suspicious shipping activity show Putin has found one way to offset sanctions?

The boss of software company Windward has said he has a "good idea" about where Russia's seaborne oil exports are going.

Speaking to Sky News' Ian King, chief executive Ami Daniel said: "What we are seeing is Russia is strategically using what's called ship-to-ship transfers in the middle of the sea with millions of barrels, to obfuscate the supply chain and the source of oil."

He said they have been seeing a rise in ship-to-ship transfers off Kalamata in Greece and in the Atlantic.

"I think there's a straightforward place that it's going to, so crude is obviously going to India and to China and to those countries which didn't necessarily take a stand [against the war in Ukraine].

"It could also be Malaysia or Indonesia for instance – people who don't necessarily align themselves 100% with the West or with China and Iran."

Mr Daniel added that the last 12 months have been all about supply chain management, and that suspicious maritime activity is "absolutely" on the rise as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


China's role in Ukraine conflict vital to EU relations, EU says

China must play a part in pressing for a "just peace" in Ukraine and its role in the conflict will be vital in shaping relations with the European Union, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this morning.

China, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has a responsibility to play a constructive role in advancing a peace based on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, with the withdrawal of invading Russian forces, she added.

"Any peace plan which would in effect consolidate Russian annexations is simply not a viable plan. We have to be frank on this point," Ms von der Leyen said in a speech in Brussels on the eve of a trip to Beijing.

"How China continues to interact with Putin's war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward."

Her comments come after Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-day visit to Russia where he met with his longtime friend Vladimir Putin.


Russia in contact with IAEA on 'evolving' idea of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant safety zone

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said today that Moscow was still talking to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency about the idea of a safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant that is controlled by Russian forces in Ukraine, Russian news agencies reported.

RIA quoted him as saying that the idea was "evolving".

Interfax news agency quoted Mr Ryabkov as saying Moscow was in "constant contact" with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi.

Earlier, we reported that Mr Grossi said there had been a significant increase in the number of troops in the region of the plant and it could no longer be protected.


Four bankers who helped Putin's friend set up Swiss bank account are convicted

Four bankers who helped a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin move millions of francs through Swiss bank accounts have been convicted.

They were all were found guilty today of helping Sergey Roldugin, a concert cellist who has been dubbed "Putin's wallet" by the Swiss government.

The executives - three Russians and one Swiss - helped Roldugin, who is godfather to Putin's eldest daughter Maria, deposit millions of francs in Swiss bank accounts between 2014 and 2016.

The men, who cannot be identified under Swiss reporting restrictions, were found guilty at a hearing at Zurich District Court and were given suspended sentences of seven months each.


Wall Street Journal reporter in Russia detained 'on suspicion of spying'

Russia's FSB security service said today that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich had been detained in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of espionage, the Interfax news agency reported.

Mr Gershkovich, who was in Russia to cover the ongoing war in Ukraine, "is suspected of espionage in the interests of the American government", the security service known as the FSB said in a statement, Interfax reported.

The FSB said it had"stopped the illegal activities of US citizen GershkovichEvan, born in 1991, a correspondent of the Moscow bureau of theAmerican newspaper The Wall Street Journal, accredited at theRussian Foreign Ministry, who is suspected of spying in theinterests of the American government".

It added that the US reporter "collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex".

According to the Moscow Times, PR expert Yaroslav Shirshikov saidon messaging app Telegram that he received an overnight phone call from a WSJ employee who had been unable to contact Mr Gershkovich.

"He [Gershkovich] was online yesterday at about 15:00 for the last time. He arranged to do an interview with me," Mr Shirshikov was quoted as saying.


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